I started a list of coping strategies here (and continued it here) as a way to deal with the fact that my last son was leaving me for a life of academic and domestic bliss in Cardiff (he’s back now, but that’s another story).
So far my list has consisted of ways to forget that one is no longer needed on a day-to-day basis by one’s spawn. Today I had a breakthrough. I found a way to make a redundant parent pleased to be free of dependents.
The secret is to go to a holiday attraction at half term.
The attraction we chose today was Paradise Park in Hayle, Cornwall. We chose it because there are otters (although it’s mainly birds) and there was a money-off voucher. I tried to persuade my friend H to come, but she said it’s a long and expensive journey on public transport from Bodmin just to look at some birds flapping. She tends to prefer animals that can kill you, so we were forced to go without her.
Once our spawn are old enough to scorch their own pizzas and disappear for days at a time, we forget what a phenomenal amount of hard work it is to look after small children. I think this is an evolutionary adaptation designed to make sure we don’t stop breeding in horror. Attending family holiday attractions is a foolproof way to recharge the memory. We stood in the queue at Paradise Park watching parents juggling chubby hands, bottles, bags, pushchairs, toys, lunchboxes and their sanity while warning, cajoling, jollying, reassuring, enthusing and willing their broods through the process of entering the park. How relaxing it was to just stand there watching. Not one shriek of distress or wail of demand was aimed at me. I was the luckiest person in Paradise Park (apart from the one who gets to feed the otters).
Lunch in the cafe was a further revelation. The entire place was rammed with families sating irritable children with comestibles. I sat with P at a sunny table peacefully supping tea and watching otters cavort outside while all around me was mayhem. Pale and rumpled parents were spooning squishy substances into gaping babyholes, picking up pieces of bashed fruit from the floor, persuading errant children to eat one more bite of sausage, begging toddlers to desist from shrieking, wiping up spills and faces and promising a go on the penny-squashing machine if brother would cease hitting sister while sister finishes her fizzy toxin in a cup. The noise of family life en masse was enough to shatter a vulnerable ear drum and cause involuntary infertility.
And none of it had anything to do with me. I am free. This empty nest thing – it’s not so bad.
Here are a few photos from the park.